Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Colombian Exploration

Life here on the coast can be exhausting. Constantly battling the heat and elements of pueblo life zaps the energy right out of anyone. Constantly trying to decipher and understand the locals as they tell you about their day and lives leads to confusion and headaches. When summer vacation rolled around and I was given an opportunity to escape the coast for a while, you better believe I jumped on that!

Normally, the summer break is around 3 weeks. However, due to the teacher strike back in April, that vacation was cut down to just one week for the students. Luckily, I was able to get my vacation approved in advance of this schedule change and I was able to take 10 days away from the comforts of the pueblo and do some exploring of Colombia away from the coast. The following is a recap of the trip itself!


- Upon disembarking from the plane, Derek, Kathleen, and I were instantly greeted with the cool, rainy weather of Bogotá. Needless to say, this was quite a change/shock to the system from the hot, humid temperatures that we have become accustomed to on the coast.

- Met up with a former Peace Corps Volunteer, Alli, who served in Cartagena and led some of our trainings back when we first arrived, and explored some of La Candelaria, one of the oldest barrios (neighborhoods) in Bogotá. We ended up at the Botero Museum, a free museum dedicated to showcasing some of the famous works of Fernando Botero. Botero is famous for his very distinct style of painting, in which he enlarges all of the characters of his paintings on purpose.

- Tried some of the traditional food that Bogotá is famous for, including Ajiaco (a thick soup with chicken, avocado, rice, capers, and crema de leche - probably my new favorite soup here in Colombia!) and chocolate con queso (hot chocolate with cheese - sounds weird, but it's a nice sweet/savory combination surprisingly).

- Partook in a graffiti tour around La Calendaria and the surrounding areas. This tour was really interesting and the graffiti was not your stereotypical tags and attempts at defacing public spaces. Graffiti in Bogotá revered and respected. Many of the works that we saw were beautiful pieces filled with intricate designs, bright colors, and distinct stylistic elements. Despite the rainy and cold conditions that accompanied the tour, this was by far one of the highlights or the trip.

The oldest street in Bogotá

- Walked around the Plaza de Bolivar, the main plaza in Bogotá that includes the cathedral, Congressional building, and Presidential Palace.

Congressional building
Standing in front of the Presidential Palace
 - While exploring the open air market at Usaquén, we stumbled upon a random gathering of jugglers, acrobats, and other street performances in the middle of a park. 

- We made the 2.3 km trek up to Monserrate, the tallest mountain in Bogotá and home to a church and beautiful views of Bogotá. The hike up was filled with wind, rain, sun, and tired calves. Esther, another volunteer in our group, flew into Bogotá for a few days and joined us for the hike. Coming from the flat lands of Repelón made the hike a bit more difficult than it should have been. However, the rewarding views of the city made it worth it. 

- On our last day, Esther, Derek, Kathleen, and I hopped on a bus and headed to Zipaquriá, a town about 45 minutes north of Bogotá. This town is home to the Salt Cathedral, an underground Roman Catholic Church that was built in 1932. The mountains that the cathedral is built into have been an important economic source for the town and surrounding areas, providing salt and other minerals for centuries. Along with the church itself, the tunnels are filled with a rendition of the Stations of the Cross and other sites. We also partook in a mining tour, in which it was confirmed that I will never be a miner (we legitimately mined for salt with real picks - I´m pretty sure I ingested more than anything else).

Survived the mining tour!
Islas del Rosario

As our time in Bogotá came to a close, I was definitely not ready to return to the daily grind (and heat) of Repelón. So, upon arriving back in Barranquilla, I met my friend MC and we headed to Cartagena for the night. There, we met up with Amanda, Alex, and Caleb, other volunteers in our group. After spending a nice, relaxing night in Cartagena, catching up, we headed to the Islas del Rosario the next day. These islands are not only beautiful, but are also "home" for Alex and Caleb, one of the two married couples in our group. I have been wanting to visit them ever since site announcements were made back in October and took full advantage of this opportunity. 

Amanda, MC, and I had a wonderful two days, basking in the sun, snorkeling, meeting community members and tourists passing through, and being able to see how other volunteers truly live. One of the best parts of serving in a country where all of the volunteers live relatively close to each other is the ability to visit each other at site. Alex and Caleb truly have a unique situation, as they are the only volunteers who live on an island and truly do depend on their community for survival. It was great to see them in their element, and of course, to also spend time with them.

MC (Master Chef) and her eggplant parm! So good!!

The crew
4th of July

Before heading back to Repelón, we had one more stop to make and celebration to partake in. July 4th not only marking Independence Day in America, but also my friend Jimmy's birthday. From the island, we made a quick pit stop in Cartagena to see Jessi and a few of her friends before heading back to Barranquilla to join other volunteers at a 4th of July potluck in the park. After properly stuffing ourselves with some delicious food (and taking a modified citizenship test), we moved the party to an apartment that we had rented for the night.

The festivities continued well into the wee hours of July 5th. Having spent many 4th of July's away from home and the US has helped me to gain an appreciation for being an American. Being able to spend this important American holiday surrounded by not only good American friends, but also a few Colombian made it even more special. With Colombia's Independence Day coming up next week (July 20th), I'm looking forward to being able to partake in their celebrations in the same way that some Colombians were able to partake in ours.

Most of the 4th of July crew
The past week has been filled with classes starting up again, readjusting to the heat, and figuring out ways to make these next few months of my service meaningful and enjoyable. While it was nice to be off of the coast for a while and to have a break from the climate, it's always good to come back home.